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People v. Coleman

October 13, 1999

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
V.
WALTER COLEMAN,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 93--CF--433 Honorable Grant S. Wegner, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

13 October 1999

Following a bench trial, defendant, Walter Coleman, was found guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance (720 ILCS 570/402(c) (West 1992)) and was sentenced to 15 months' incarceration. Defendant timely appeals and contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss the indictment against him because the State's loss or destruction of the substance that he allegedly possessed resulted in a violation of his due process rights. We agree and reverse.

On March 27, 1993, a complaint for a preliminary hearing was filed against defendant. The complaint alleged that on March 26, 1993, defendant unlawfully possessed less than 15 grams of a substance containing cocaine. On April 8, 1993, defendant failed to appear for his initial court appearance and a warrant was issued. Defendant remained on warrant status until January 28, 1998, when he was arrested. From the time that the warrant was issued in 1993 until defendant's arrest in 1998, the State apparently took no further action on defendant's case.

On February 23, 1998, the State filed an indictment against defendant charging him with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. On February 27, 1998, defendant filed a motion for discovery. In his discovery motion, defendant requested an opportunity to examine any tangible objects that the State had seized from him and intended to use against him. On March 11, 1998, the State filed its answer to defendant's discovery motion. The answer indicated that the State "may or may not" offer into evidence the cocaine that defendant allegedly possessed. On March 24, 1998, the trial court entered an order requiring the county sheriff to make evidence (presumably the alleged cocaine) that was listed in a certain police report available for inspection by defendant's counsel and counsel's investigators.

Defendant subsequently filed a motion seeking to dismiss the indictment against him or to bar the State from introducing "evidence relating to any controlled substances including evidence regarding lab testing results performed on any substances." In the motion, defendant asserted that the alleged cocaine had been lost or destroyed and that this constituted a violation of his due process rights and a violation of discovery orders.

On April 22, 1998, the trial court entered an order stating that the parties stipulated that "the evidence in question, alleged to be controlled substances, has been either lost or destroyed and is no longer available." On the same date, the trial court conducted a hearing on defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment. The court then took the matter under advisement so that it could review the cases relied on by the parties before rendering its decision.

On April 24, 1998, the trial court rendered its decision and denied defendant's motion. The court stated that it was unsure how or when the evidence was destroyed, that it could not determine whether the destruction was done in good or bad faith, and that "it would appear that the evidence was destroyed prior to the filing of Defendant's motion for discovery." The trial court then stated:

"In the instant case, the State was not on notice that the evidence must be preserved until February 27, 1998, when the discovery motion was filed. Under those circumstances, it would appear that the [discovery] request is not timely. And this is tied in with the fact that the timeliness becomes an issue because the Defendant [was] on warrant status for such a long period. The Defendant should not be able to use that warrant status and then bootstrap that time in[to] a due process argument."

The court also stated that, because the discovery request was untimely, defendant was required to show that the State acted in bad faith in order to establish a due process violation. The court noted that it had already determined that there was no evidence that the State destroyed the evidence in bad faith and therefore concluded that the motion should be denied.

On the same date, at the request of the parties, the trial court conducted a bench trial. At the trial, the parties stipulated that the State could produce evidence showing that on March 27, 1993, while defendant was being booked for a traffic violation, the police discovered that defendant had possession of four small plastic baggies containing a white powdery substance; that a field test of the substances was positive for the presence of cocaine; that a later lab analysis of the substances showed that they contained 1.4 grams of cocaine; and that a forensic scientist, who could be qualified as an expert witness, would testify that it was his opinion, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty, that the substances contained cocaine. Defendant did not present any evidence.

Based on the stipulated facts, the trial court found defendant guilty of unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Pursuant to a negotiated agreement, the trial court sentenced defendant to 15 months' in the Department of Corrections. Defendant's timely notice of appeal followed the denial of his motion for a new trial.

On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss the indictment. Defendant argues that the State's loss or destruction of the alleged cocaine, which was essential to and determinative of the outcome of his case, violated his due process rights because he filed a timely discovery motion to inspect the alleged cocaine. In support of his argument, defendant asserts that the trial court's finding that the State destroyed the alleged cocaine prior to his filing of the discovery motion should be rejected because the finding is not based on any evidence in the record. Defendant also asserts that, even if the trial court's finding as to when the State destroyed the ...


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